Chapter 14: A Thorn In My Side
They were at it again.
For the past three hours, Aragorn and Boromir had been having repeated variations of the same conversation over and over again. The words changed, but the unspoken grating tension was exactly the same. The latest version sounded something like this:
"There must have been a simpler path to Lothlórien than this."
"Perhaps once there was. Pray, what kind of path were expecting?"
"A plain road. Even a dirt track. Not… this." As if to emphasise the point, Boromir's boot caught on a stray root. He stumbled and I almost ran straight into the back of him. I guess he was internally ruing the fact that he hadn't insisted we take his advice and go via the Gap of Rohan.
Aragorn barely slowed in his jog from the front of the line, leading us all over the rough terrain of the Misty Mountain foothills as nimbly as a gazelle. He did manage to shoot an annoyed glance at Boromir over one shoulder, his voice taking on a surly tone.
"Any safe path we could follow would likely be watched. Through the wilds is our safest option. Unless of course you would rather return through the road within Moria? Or the scale the mountains back to the West?"
Boromir gave him a look that could have scoured rust off sheet metal.
"Just lead on, ranger. Our path still remains treacherous."
Good God. I wondered if all men of Gondor were this crabby when they were tired…
Despite the endless alpha male bickering going on between the two Men of our company, I was grateful there was something to draw the attention of the others — however annoying a distraction it was. Gandalf's absence was still weighing on us all, especially the hobbits, although most had seemed to be postponing their grief for a safer time. They ran ahead of me, just behind Gimli who was keeping up well without complaint, despite all huffing and puffing.
We'd been going like that for half the day by then, and even though my wound was still hidden, it's effects were becoming noticeably worse the further we went. Weirdly, it really didn't hurt as much as you'd expect — not even after hours of running. I was much slower than I'd been through Moria, keeping a steady but strained pace a little behind Boromir. I guess the lack of pain was mostly due to the pain relief draught and miruvor I'd downed earlier. But I knew if I hadn't taken it, I'd have been doubled over with agony by now.
It was the other symptoms that were my bigger problem.
I was getting progressively thirstier the further we ran, and where the pain in my side should have been, there was a lazy numbness that was very slowly making it's way up my side. I knew that wasn't a good sign, but still I kept quiet, determined to just take longer, more frequent gulps from my water skin and keep running.
Yeah, I know. Off the scale of madness.
But I wasn't so mad — yet — that I didn't make sure to keep a close eye on my heartbeat and breathing. Aragorn had been right; we needed to get out of the open by night fall, and I couldn't slow the others down now. Not at the risk of stopping and leaving us vulnerable to the orc packs roaming the area. But I also knew Tink had been right on one point — if the numbness spread any higher up my side, or started across my chest to my heart, I'd have no choice but to stop.
Goblins were ugly, violent, collectively dull witted creatures. But from my studies of them back in Rivendell's library, I knew they were hell on wheels when it came to poison making.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Legolas asked me quietly when I stumbled over my own feet for the seventh time in an hour.
"I'm fine. Just getting tired…" I answered breathlessly, though this time I didn't try to force a faux smile past the wave of nausea. They were coming more frequently, along with the dizzy spells.
Legolas eyed me suspiciously, but didn't argue as we kept going.
As if sensing our collective weariness, Aragorn slowed his long striding gait to something more sane — and less indicative of where he'd got the nickname 'Strider'.
"We need not continue running from here." He said as if he'd heard me complain, though he was too far ahead of us to have been able to. He came to a stop at the top of a rocky hill and pointed down towards the bottom. "We've reached the edge of the Golden Wood."
The rest of us caught up to him at the crest of the rocky hill, and we all looked out over the sprawling view ahead.
Tired as we were, the first glimpse of Lothlórien really was a sight for sore eyes.
The last of the fairly steep climb down from the mountain foothills went on for little more than half a mile, before it gave way to a short stretch of grassland. I imagined it would be covered in wildflowers in spring, but since it was late winter, the green was shot through with small white patched of unmelted snow. Just beyond that, the outskirts of the forest covered the landscape like a vast green velvet blanket, splashed with yellows and dark golds. A narrow river wound it's way down from the hills and around the edge of the trees, and I made a note to refill my water skin as we passed it.
I just hoped no one would have the presents of mind ask how I'd gone through an entire flask worth of water in less than two hours.
It took us less than twenty minutes to clamber down the foothills, cross the grasslands and river, and enter the eves of the wood. It had looked like a green cloak flung over the hills from far off, but once we were under the trees it seemed much larger. The vast array of different trees towered up way over our heads, ending in a viridian ceiling that shifted in the breeze. And although it was January and should have been chilly, the air seemed to warm the further moved further inside.
It was beautiful, and felt strangely welcoming. Like the feeling you get when you come home from a long day and there's already the smell of dinner cooking. It was almost enough to distract me from my steadily increasing nausea. With each pang it was getting a little worse, and a little harder to hide...
We followed Aragorn tentatively through the trees, and I surreptitiously took another long swig from my water skin. It didn't help.
"Why do they call it the Golden Wood?" Merry wondered aloud, peering around at the surrounding trees. For the calming effect the forest seemed to have on me, the little hobbit in question looked jumpy — like he was expecting something to leap out of a bush and shout 'boo'.
"That is mostly thanks to the mallorn trees that grow here." Legolas replied quietly. He'd been nearly as quiet as the hobbits during the journey from Moria, but he suddenly sounded relieved, almost happy now that we were finally under the shelter of the trees. "Lothlórien is said to be among the fairest of all my people's dwellings because of them. They grow tall with silver grey bark, and in autumn their leaves do not fall, but turn gold, refusing to fall until spring brings the new green to the branches."
He ran a hand over the silvery bark of one as we passed it, adding thoughtfully, "Though these ones are small by comparison, the older ones nearer the centre of the wood are said to be tall enough to match the ceilings of Moria's halls."
Gimli gave a not so subtle snort of disbelief from up ahead, but Legolas ignored him.
"You've seen them before?" I asked him quietly, genuinely curious to know, but also trying to distract myself from the twisting feeling growing in my stomach.
"Not before now." Legolas answered softly, still looking up at the light filtering down through the trees. "I've only heard of them in tales and songs of my own people in the North."
A wistful little smile had appeared on his mouth, his eyes sharp grey-blue softening just a little. It made him look much younger than I knew he really was — almost my own age.
"Stay close young hobbits." Gimli cut in quietly to Merry and Pippin (or at least as quietly as he could manage with his deep dwarven voice). "They also say a Sorceress lives in these woods. An elf witch of terrible power. All who look upon her fall under her spell, and are never seen again."
I saw the frown that creased Legolas's eyebrows before he could hide it, but he said nothing more to the dwarf.
As we kept walking, more of the mallorn trees started appearing, each one growing a little bigger and taller the further we ventured. Sunlight continued to pour through the gradually yellowing canopy overhead, drenching the path before us in warm honey coloured light. It was strange that the others clearly felt unease at being here, when all I could feel was calm and safe…
I tilted my head back to look up and see the beautiful gold leaves for myself.
My head spun and I swayed dangerously, almost stumbling sideways into Sam. I quickly shut my eyes, placing a hand against a nearby trunk to steady myself. My other hand came up to cover my mouth.
"Miss Eleanor, are you really sure you're alright?" Sam asked me quietly, in that tone you hear from people asking a drunk how many fingers they're holding up. "You really don't look well."
"Yeah, r-really… I'll be ok once we…" I insisted, forcing a grimace onto my face while I bit my tongue to keep for wincing. My side had started throbbing. The last of my pain relief draught must have finally started to wear off.
I almost fell over Frodo when he suddenly came to a sudden halt in front of us.
Frodo didn't respond.
Since we'd escaped Moria, since Gandalf had gone, he'd barely spoken at all. Not even Sam.
I knew he'd been closest to the old wizard, and that his loss had hit him the hardest of all. I'd thought back to my own first experience with loosing a loved one from my life on Earth. My grandfather had died when I was twenty, in my first year of college. The loss of the kind man who'd been there through all of my childhood and most of my young adult life had been more than difficult. Likewise — bar loosing Bilbo — I imagined Frodo couldn't have been dealt a more painful blow than seeing Gandalf slip away right in front of him…
He didn't look grieved now though.
He had a puzzled look on his face, and was looking around the small clearing, as if someone had just called his name through the trees. Sam asked him quietly if he was ok, and gave him a gentle shake of the shoulder. Frodo jumped a bit, and Sam and I both saw the alarm in his eyes.
He had heard something.
"Well, here's one dwarf she won't ensnare so easily!" Gimli was still grandstanding to Merry and Pippin. "I have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox!"
The words had barely left his mouth, when an arrow appeared right in front of him, pointed straight at the end of his prominent nose.
We all froze. Gimli's eyes widened.
The blond elf aiming the arrow had literally appeared out of nowhere. Next thing any of us knew, we each had between two and four arrows pointed at us, all by unfamiliar, hard-faced looking blond elves. All of them were dressed in a varying shades of dark grey and shadowy purple hunting leathers. They would have blended perfectly into the growing shadows of the forest if it had been just a bit darker.
None of us had a chance to so much as sneeze, let alone draw weapons. Except for — wait for it — Legolas, of course. He'd somehow managed to draw an arrow and pull it back to aim squarely back at the one pointed at him. Quite the medieval stand-off.
I just stood there like a lemon, eyes slightly crossed at the bolt pointed right at the centre of my face, too shocked and too queasy to react at all. Not even to spit out a witty one-liner about pointy objects and phallic metaphors.
I must have been in worse shape than I thought…
"The dwarf breathes so loud we could have shot him in the dark." Another elf had addressed us all, somehow managing to sound both matter of fact and a bit smug at the same time. He calmly stepped out from the others that had surrounded us into plain view.
He was also blond like the others, but his pin straight hair was a noticeably darker and braided back smoothly out of his face. He also wore slightly different hunting leathers from the others, marking him very clearly as their leader.
Oh, and he was also the only one not aiming anything pointy at us… other than his stare, I guess.
His hard gaze drifted over us and stopped on Legolas, who was still in the midst of a staring contest with the elf opposite him, arm still drawn back in an unfired shot. The head honcho elf snapped an order at them in Sindarin elvish, and they each lowered their bows in near unison. Legolas also lowered his own bow, though he didn't immediately look away from the elf who'd very nearly shot him in the face.
"Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduilion." The leader said, bringing his hand across his chest to his heart in the elvish sign of greeting, though he didn't smile. It took me a second to get my brain into gear and make the mental switch from common speech to Sindarin, but I understood what he'd just said as: "Welcome Legolas, son of Thranduil."
I looked confusedly from the leader of the hostile elves to Legolas, who's expression hadn't changed even a little. Obviously the other elf knew him from somewhere else, or by reputation at least. That made me feel at least a little better. But if the title 'son of Thranduil' held some bigger significance than sounding a bit pretentious, it was totally lost on me.
Legolas returned the greeting gesture politely, but didn't lose the wary expression.
"Our Fellowship gratefully accepts your welcome, Haldir of Lórien." He said neutrally, and the fact that he didn't refer to himself individually didn't escape me either. He sounded almost annoyed by the fact that he'd been deliberately singled out. At least, more annoyed than he had at almost being shot in the face. Obviously he didn't take kindly to that kind of treatment any better than I did.
Except, I actually had been shot…
My side throbbed again as a reminder, and another wave of nausea crept up through my stomach. I pushed it away and focused on watching the darker blond elf, who I now knew as Haldir — the famed Marchwarden of Lórien. I'd heard of him, and remembered him vaguely from the books. And like many of the other 'characters' I'd met, he looked different to how I'd expected. Harder faced but still handsome, but a lot less welcoming.
Not that I was ogling yet another stupidly handsome elf or anything. I was far too focused on not throwing up on him to do that.
"Aragorn of the Dúnedain, you are also known to us." Haldir said with increasing surprise, still speaking Sindarin as his gaze fell on Aragorn. Aragorn graced him with a polite bow and the same elvish greeting Haldir had offered Legolas, and it looked really odd coming from him. I'd never seen him bow to anyone except Lord Elrond.
"So much for the legendary courtesy of the Elves! Speak words we can also understand!" Gimli cut in brazenly in common speech, in the gruffly blunt fashion that only he seemed to be able to pull off.
Haldir turned slowly on him, and gave him a haughty look that was harder than stone. Again, something I'd only ever seen elves manage to pull off.
"We have not had dealings with the dwarves, since the dark days." He said cooly, looking down his nose at Gimli.
"And do you know what this Dwarf says to that?" Gimli replied, his voice very nearly a growl. "Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul!*"
I had no idea what the hell Gimli had just said, but it was obviously nothing pleasant, or even remotely polite, because Haldir's eyebrows pinched in a sharp glower and his jaw muscles tightened.
Aragorn closed his eyes in, exasperation and clapped a hand on Gimli's broad shoulder — a gesture that could have been companionably restraining, but wasn't.
"That was not so courteous!" He muttered sharply. Gimli snorted, looking thoroughly unimpressed, hands twitching towards his axe.
"These woods are treacherous, Aragorn. We should go back." He intoned as if Haldir wasn't standing right there within perfect earshot. The Marchwarden eyed the dwarf with narrowed blue eyes and a birdlike tilt of the head.
"You have trespassed on the realm of the Lady of the Wood. You cannot simply go back." He said coldly.
The look he gave us all sent a chill through me that had nothing to do with my wound. We'd entered the forest peacefully, seeking aid, not a fight. Whatever the penalty for hostile strangers intruding upon the Golden Wood, the look in Haldir's eyes told me that it was anything but pleasant.
My stomach twisted again, and I bit my lip to stop myself doubling over. A salty, coppery taste had suddenly appeared in my mouth…
Aragorn gently but firmly pushed Gimli a little way back behind him, approaching Haldir and speaking deliberately very quietly in Sindarin again.
"Haldir, we came here for your help. Please, we need your protection." Aragorn said, a distinct note of pleading in his voice that anyone else might have missed. Haldir noticed it though, and narrowed his eyes.
Another wave of nausea — stronger this time — rolled over me, and the last of the pain relief draught went spiralling down the drain along with my control…
I turned, braced a hand against a tree, and was noisily sick right over the feet of the nearest archer. He gave a startled cry of disgust and stumbled back away from me. The wimp. I'd barely eaten anything since Moria, so there wasn't much to come back up other than water. Still, it wasn't pretty, and it hurt like hell.
One wretch, two, three…
By the time the others realised something was very wrong I'd slid down the tree onto my knees and hands, my legs turned to water beneath me.
My stomach gave up after there was obviously nothing left in me to throw up, and just settled for twisting and clenching horribly. A little moan of pain escaped me before I could stop it. Boromir had been closest to me. Confused and alarmed by my reaction, he reached down and gently tried to help me get myself vertical again. The worried look on his face deepened when his arm coiled around my waist, brushing right over the end of the broken arrow shaft in my side. I went nearly blind with the pain. As my vision came back, I saw Boromir had drawn his hand back from me, and frozen in shock.
His hand had come away slick with my blood, the red speckled with tiny patches of dark grey.
Ah… balls. That really wasn't good…
Aragorn was at my side in seconds, ignoring surrounding elves as if they weren't even there. Boromir made a sound of protest, but Aragorn calmly pushed his hands away from me. He quickly untied the sash holding my outer tunic closed and all but tore it off my middle. My lights almost went out with the wave of pain that brought.
"By Mahal, lass, what have you done to yourself?!" Gimli's voice sounded like it was coming from a long way away.
I thought of a snappy comeback to shoot at the dwarf, but my brain didn't manage to get it out of my mouth. I was too busy hunched over myself as flashes of pain fired through my insides.
"You were wounded this whole time?! And you said nothing?!" Legolas's stunned voice came from just a few feet away.
Aragorn was knelt down next to me now, half supporting me, half trying to get me to stand up. But I just didn't have the strength left in my legs to lift my own weight. I fell sideways into him and saw the look on his face. I knew that look. I knew exactly what was going through his head, and it made my blood boil despite myself.
Or maybe even because of it.
He opened his mouth to chastise me, but I cut him off, pointing a shaking finger right in his face.
"Don't y-you dare… call me a l-liability… y-you ass." I stammered, my whole body starting to shiver violently even though I didn't feel cold. Actually, I couldn't really feel much of anything from my waist down…
A frustrated and angry look crossed his face, but it was quickly replaced with cool focus as I groaned and curled in on myself again, needles of pain poking at the inside of my belly. My body wanted so badly to be sick again, but there was just nothing left in my stomach to throw up.
"She has been hit with a goblin bolt?" I heard someone else say, and realised after a second it was Haldir. He'd kneeled down next to me on the grass, and was examining my injured side without trying to touch me. "A poisoned one. It has had more than enough time to set in."
"Can you help her?" Pippin's voice, high with worry and shock suddenly came from somewhere to my left. I couldn't see where anymore.
One of the other elves said something to Haldir in elvish, too fuzzy and too fast for me to catch. He responded with a short, sharp reply.
"We can treat the wound temporarily, but not here." He told Aragorn seriously, who was still holding me reasonably upright while I shivered and trembled uncontrollably — my vision going in and out of focus. "You were followed by something from the North-East. We cannot risk remaining on the ground. Come, this way."
I heard him stand, but he was little more than a dark blond, purplish grey robed blur now. So was Aragorn, and I had no idea who the other various blurs clustered around me were.
The world had started spinning again. I swallowed a moan of pain, forcing my exhausted brain to think of something to keep alert. Of all the things I could have gone for; I started prattling off every and all the Shakespeare plays I could possibly remember. I was terrified that if I blacked out now, I wouldn't be able to wake up again. But I was just so damned tired…
“Macbeth… Hamlet… Midsummer Night’s Dream… Romeo & Juliet…” I mumbled, my words coming out weak and breathy.
I could only just about remember being picked up gently by someone strong, then being carried in their arms. Even with my eyes close I recognised the familiar scent of Aragorn: wood smoke, leather and damp earth. My cheek rolled against his shoulder, and I let it stay there, keeping my dizzy mind focused as hard on the names.
“…M-Much Ado About Nothing… Twelfth Night… O-Othello… Antony & Cleo…”
One of the elves asked another what I was saying, but no one answered. I could practically hear their baffled shrugs at me and my rambling. Big surprise. I had a feeling Shakespeare would be lost on this lot anyway.
We stopped suddenly, and my world spun as my head was jarred to the left. Another embarrassingly pathetic moan escaped me.
"Let me…" Someone's very muffled voice said close to me, but my ears had started ringing with too much white noise to tell who. I was gently passed to them, laid carefully over their shoulder in a fireman's hold. Then we were slowly rising up into one of the trees.
My carrier was an elf. I knew that without a doubt, because he was somehow nimble enough to climb the rope ladder up to the platform one handed. Plus one semi-conscious damsel slung casually over his shoulder.
Even when I was half dead they still managed to irritate the hell out of me.
The second we reached the top, I was laid down carefully on a smooth wooden platform high in the tree, my head resting on someone's knees for support. The second I was horizontal all the blood run straight to my head in a dizzying rush. It made the world cartwheel. And made me very sleepy.
I'd just shut my eyes for a minute. God knew I'd bloody well earned a nap by now. Just for a minute…
"Eleanor? Eleanor! Wake up!" Aragorn ordered me, all but yelling right into my face and gently smacking a hand against my cheek, just hard enough to keep me from getting comfortable. "Do not fall asleep!"
"Stop… s-sodding… telling me what to do… y-you scary bastard." I heard myself croak.
Jeez, was that really my voice? I really needed a cough drop…
"She's going into shock." Another familiar voice said, calm but tinged with deep-set worry. I knew who that was…
I snorted loudly, but it came out as more of a groan as another wave of numbness crawled up my side. Silly blond Disney prince elf probably didn't even know what shock was.
"N-no I'm not…" I slurred almost drunkenly at Legolas, "—Mm just really… sleepy…"
"The shaft is broken. She must have snapped it to keep it from moving." I heard Haldir say calmly but seriously. I could feel what I assumed were his fingers gently but efficiently pulling my tunic up over my belly to inspect the wound.
I knew full well I was delirious, and probably near hallucinating. But dammit, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed that some stranger had just gone and pulled up my shirt in front of a bunch of men.
"The arrowhead must be removed or the poison will continue to spread."
"She won't be able to stay conscious through that kind of pain." Legolas's voice filled my ears again, edged with something a step above concern.
"Eleanor, where is your Numbing Draught?" Aragorn asked me suddenly, still gently tapping the side of my face to keep me firmly in reality. "The one you gave to me. For my arm. Where is it?"
"Gone." I coughed out dryly. "U-used the… last o-of it outside M-Moria."
Aragorn growled a word that a gentleman really shouldn't say in front of a lady. I choked on the coppery taste in my mouth and glared up at him as best I could.
"Q-quit complaining. Or y-you can… s-sodding well f-fix your own a-arm next time!"
"The tip is too deep to be safely cut out. It has not hit any major organs, but the barbs would only cause her internal damage if pulled out." Haldir stated, sensibly ignoring the pair of us. But my stomach dropped and twisted all at once at what he said next.
“There is no choice. It must be pushed through entirely."
I was suddenly and vividly reminded of when I'd helped Lord Elrond remove the Morgul splinter from Frodo. How the frightened little hobbit had thrashed and screamed in panic and pain while Lord Elrond and I had worked to heal him — knowing that there was nothing we could do to ease the pain other than to keep working.
I almost started laughing, like I had done in Moria when the panic had become too much to handle. But it hurt too much to breathe, so I just grimaced and nodded silently without a word.
"I am more skilled at putting these into others, rather than removing them. But I can do this much." Haldir said directly to me, rather than to any of the others. He took a small strip of leather from a pouch on his belt, folded it, and held it in front of my face with a faintly apologetic look. "Forgive me, this will hurt."
I knew what was coming next. But that didn't mean I was going to like it.
I swallowed thickly, taking the little strip of leather and saying just before I bit it between my teeth; "J-jus—… just d-do it."
Haldir nodded grimly.
Someone took hold of both my ankles — Aragorn I think — pressing down on them with just enough weight to keep them pinned to the floor. Someone else lifted the upper half of my body against them, a gentle hand slipping into my hair, carefully holding me still against their lap so I wouldn't hurt myself if I started convulsing.
The familiar scent of pine needles, grass and rain filled my head — the only sense I had left that hadn't been dulled by the poison…
"Keep her still."
I swallowed again, trying to focus on anything other than what I knew had to happen next. Another wave of dizziness hit me, and I clenched my eyes shut, turning my head closer against the person holding me, their scent intensifying until it was all I could sense.
"…you smell… really nice…" I slurred before I could think, my head flopping sideways to rest against them. I felt their fingers stiffen very slightly against the base of my neck.
Then Haldir began to push the arrow through.
I know some people out there had the ability to compartmentalise their pain. Shoving it away to he back of their consciousness, sending themselves into a meditative state where they feel only minor discomfort.
But I couldn't do that. I felt absolutely everything as the arrow head went through me.
I screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
A hand found mine through the waves of agony, and I gripped it so hard my knuckles popped. My head swam, my vision went red, and my hearing turned to nothing but white noise. The gag fell out of my mouth at some point. I knew I was still screaming though, because my throat and side burned like they were both on fire. The stronger, slightly calloused hand held mine tightly while the fingers in my hair held carefully but firm against the back of my neck — half comforting, half keeping me from cracking my head against the floor. They were saying something to me. I could feel their breath on my face, but I couldn't hear them.
It felt like an eternity and a half lying there, pinned down, unable to move as the worst pain I'd ever experienced in both my lives seared through my entire body…
At last, the pain stopped.
My screaming was replaced with ragged gasps for breath, my throat raw, and my ears slightly damp from where my tears and sweat had slid down my face and into my hair.
The sharp, mind numbing pain in my side had gone. But it was quickly replaced with something less intense, but no less crippling — creeping through my limbs like warm treacle. All the strength had been drained out of me. I felt like a limp dishrag, barely enough energy left to even lift my head. My ankles had been released, but I couldn't move them. Whoever had restrained my upper half though, hadn't let me go yet. I opened my eyes and tried to look up, though the light made them sting.
Gold blond hair, grey-blue eyes in a stupidly handsome face. He was really blurry now. If it hadn't been for the familiar scent of him, I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between him and the other elves of Lothlórien…
He was the only one close enough for me to hear properly, stroking a hand very gently over my sweat-soaked hair.
"…—finished. The arrowhead is… —you're alright…" I could just about see his mouth still moving in speech, but his words began to slur and fade out, like someone turning down the volume on a radio. "…—gone… you're alrigh—… mîr nin…—mustn't fall asleep!…—to stay awake!"
'Mîr nin? Huh, that's a new one… wonder what it means…' I thought sleepily, and made a mental note to ask him or Aragorn about it sometime.
Later though. Right now I was way too tired…
My eyes fell shut, my body went numb, and the last sounds of the world outside quieted to blissful silence.
I should have felt panicked, convinced that I was dying and needed to do something about it. But I was so relieved to be finally free of the pain that I didn't care.
Then I heard something. Another, irritatingly quiet noise intruding on my long awaited nap time.
'For God sake, can't they just let me sleep?'
Then I realised that the sounds weren't coming from anyone outside my head. They were coming from inside my head…
Just like the first time I'd searched my mind for my lost memories in Lord Elrond's study, two and a half years ago…
Frantically I scrambled to reach for them, trying to pull them close enough to hear. And this time, they did. I reached out and touched the ghostly fragments of the sounds I could feel just within my grasp, and the memories came painfully to life behind my eyes and in my ears. Flashes of images I recognised appeared all around me, but they blurred together, one after the other, almost too fast to see clearly…
I was a child again, sitting in a room with an incredible view of the sea. A beautiful woman with my own green eyes knelt on the carpet next to me. I was weaving a posey of yellow star shaped flowers into her long dark hair with my small, babyish hands. The woman smiled with bliss and hummed a quiet tune. The sound was like wildflowers, and honey, and home.
Then I was somewhere else, outside, but still familiar. I was sitting high up in a white tree in a courtyard of stone. There were guards below us, shouting, demanding that we get down this instant. A boy my age with curly brown hair laughed. So did I. He reached for a small flower growing high on a branch, plucked it, and stuck it behind my delicately pointed ear.
Then I was a little older. I walked across a stone floor, my bare feet cold, my eyes welling with tears, carrying an injured bird in my hands. I brought it tearfully up to a tall man who looked like me, but different. His ears were pointed like mine, but there were streaks of silver in his long dark brown hair. He smiled tenderly at me, running a hand over my hair. Then he laid it gently on top of the little wounded bird, his smile turning a little sad.
Then I was a teenager, walking across a lawn towards a row of training dummies. The same boy I'd played with in the white tree was older now too. He was practicing swings with a sword just a little too heavy for his slender arms. A knife suddenly flew over his shoulder, hitting the dummy in the forehead, thrown by me. He spun, and smiled widely at me, a silent laugh in his bright green eyes.
Then I was older again, almost an adult. I was back in that terrible blood stained field I'd seen in my first vision, with the body of the dead woman at my feet. My knife still in her heart. I was hunched over, on my knees, my hand clenched to my own heart, gasping in shock. My chest hurt so much. A familiar male voice somewhere not far of called out to me. He was calling my name, I knew, but I couldn't quite hear it clearly…
Then finally, I stood somewhere else again. Somewhere unfamiliar and dark. Somewhere I didn't want to be. The boy, now a man, stood opposite me. He was taller than I was, his brown hair a bit curlier than mine, but we still looked the same. Our eyes and smiles were the same. Or, had been once…
On the outside he looked calm. But I saw inside. He was almost too grieved and in too much agony to speak. But he did anyway.
For the first time, I heard his gentle but strong voice. It was low, cracked and pained, as if his heart were breaking beneath the calm, comforting facade.
"… wish it didn't have to be this way."
"I know." My own voice came from my mouth, accented by a language I didn't know anymore. "I'll go east, inland. Perhaps one of greater lord or ladies can… help me."
I wouldn't tell him exactly where I was going. It was better if he didn't know. That way, he wouldn't be able to follow me, even though he'd promised not to. He was like that…
I dipped my head so I wouldn't have to see the pain in his face.
"Please, don't tell father. Tell him something else. Anything. That I'm dead, or missing, or…" I heard my own voice breaking. "Please don't tell him that I-I'm…"
"I'm so sorry, mîth nésil.**"
The nickname jabbed a white hot needle into my heart, and I felt unwilling tears force their way into my eyes. I couldn't understand the spoken words, nor recognise the language. But somehow I knew what they meant…
My throat closed over another sob, but my voice somehow remained steady.
"I love you, Var."
'Var… my brother.'
He held me tightly against him, stroking a hand gently over the top of my head, just like he'd used to do when we were children and scared of the dark.
"I love you too. Always."
He pressed a final kiss to the crown of my head, and my entire world — both dream and waking — turned to bottomless void that I couldn't pull myself out of.
* "I spit upon your grave!" (Khûzdul)
** "small sister" (Adûnaic - speculative translation)